Our slide show is all about how to grow rose-scented geraniums in the winter and in the summer, indoors and out; how to propagate cuttings into new plants; and how to use the fragrant leaves in cocktail and dessert recipes. Plus: How to perfume your bath with the leaves!
Growing Rose-Scented Geraniums
The workhorse of my window garden is Pelargonium graveolens, the rose-scented geranium, pictured here.
Also known as the rose geranium, this plant is not technically a geranium at all, but rather, a member of the Pelargonium genus. Confusingly, pelargoniums are commonly known as scented geraniums.
In any case, this is a plant that really earns its keep—not only is it easy to grow, but the plant's deeply cut, medium green, intensely fragrant leaves can be used in drinks, desserts, and even in your bath as a beauty treatment. And it's easy to propagate new plants from the old so that you can give little geranium plants as inexpensive gifts to your fellow gardeners.
Kevin Lee Jacobs blogs at A Garden for the House. He was introduced to gardening when he was no taller than a delphinium. Today, his home in upstate New York features formal rose gardens outdoors and lavish window gardens indoors.
Where to Find Rose-Scented Geraniums
Considering graveolens' beauty, usefulness, and its history—the plant was brought from South Africa to England in 1774, and carried to the New World by the colonists shortly after—it seems strange that so few garden centers offer it today.
I bought mine almost ten years ago, and have kept it going through yearly propagation efforts. If you can’t find one locally, try selectseeds.com or logees.com. Be sure to ask for ‘True Rose’; another cultivar, ‘Lady Plymouth,’ with variegated leaves, offers only a weak rose fragrance.
Graveolens is extremely easy to grow. Give it a 4"-clay pot, well-draining soil (any commercial potting mix will do), and a position in full sun or bright light, and it will flourish almost too well.
Provide water whenever the surface soil approaches dryness. I feed mine twice-monthly with a low-nitrogen formula (such as Jack’s Classic 12-36-14). Prune your plants frequently to keep it house-sized—it is a rapid grower.
Growing new plants
To start new plants, you'll need stem cuttings, 2" long and their lower leaves removed. These root quickly in pots of moist potting medium. If you are propagating just a few cuttings, root them individually in 4" pots. If have lots of cuttings, a good plan is to root them all in an 8" bulb pan, as pictured here. After three to four weeks, transfer the young rooted plants to individual 4" pots.
Water the medium well, and then place the cuttings in a well-lighted, but not too sunny window. You can also set the cuttings under a fluorescent light fixture. Pinch out new growth to encourage branching. I make lots of new plants every year, and give them away to friends.
Rose geranium drinks
One of the nicest botanical cocktails is iced vodka, infused with the scent of the rose geranium. For a non-alcoholic drink with the same delicate notes, iced tea can also be scented with rose geranium sugar syrup.
ROSE GERANIUM SUGAR SYRUP
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
5 large, freshly picked rose-scented geranium leaves
1. In a small saucepan, bring the water and the sugar to a boil, constantly stirring until sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Remove pan from heat; add 5 large, freshly picked rose geranium leaves, and stir until they wilt.
3. Cover and let steep for 15 minutes. Remove the leaves.
ROSE GERANIUM VODKA COCKTAIL
1 1/2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 oz. rose geranium sugar syrup (recipe above)
1. Pour all of the ingredients into a shaker. Add ice cubes, shake well, and strain into a martini glass.
2. Garnish with a tiny rose geranium leaf.
Makes 1 cocktail.
ROSE GERANIUM ICED TEA
For a fragrant iced tea, stir 1 or 2 tbsps of sugar syrup in each glass of tea. I find the syrup's complex sweetness complements both green and black tea.
Rose geranium icing
For my partner’s birthday last year, I covered an ordinary white cake in deliciously fragrant rose geranium icing. Guests actually put their fingers in the mixing bowl to swipe every last trace of the damask-scented goodness!
ROSE GERANIUM ICING
1/3 cup milk
10 fresh, medium-to-large rose geranium leaves (plus extra for optional garnish)
4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 small cake (use your favorite recipes or check out SAVEUR's layer cake recipes)
food coloring, in red and blue (optional)
1. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring milk to a boil.
2. Remove pan from heat, drop in leaves, and swish them around the pan until they wilt. Then cover and let steep for 15 minutes.
3. When milk has cooled, take out the leaves and, holding them over the milk, wring the leaves with your hands. This will release even more of the rose-essence into the milk.
4. Pour the scented milk over the confectioner's sugar, and whisk until perfectly smooth. If you are using food coloring, as I did, 8 drops of red and 1 drop of blue will produce a rosy hue.
5. Pour the icing over the cake, let it slowly spread over the sides, and puddle at the cake’s base.
6. If you wish, you can garnish the rim of the cake with extra leaves. Remove the leaves before serving; although they are edible, their texture is rather unpleasant.
If you suffer from insomnia, as I sometimes do, try adding rose geranium leaves to your nighttime bath. The scent can prove a restful tonic. In the palm of your hand, crush a dozen or so leaves to release their essential oils, then drop the leaves into a hot bath. If nothing else, you’ll smell terrific after a long soak.
A year-round plant
When nighttime temperatures remain above freezing and summer seems a fair certainty, give the plant a sunny position outdoors. You can take your potted rose geranium and plant directly in the soil. If the plant's roots are released from a pot, graveolens will soon realize its true calling as a shrub. My rose-scented geranium, planted in a corner of my herb garden last summer, achieved a height and spread of 3' by August.
If you want to have the plant indoors during the winter, be sure to take cuttings from the plant well before the first touch of frost, and root them as I described earlier. You'll need to propagate new plants, even if your plant has remained in a pot all summer, because only fresh, young geraniums can be counted on for all season-long winter beauty in the house.